It’s a sacred truism (that we just made up): Wait four years between albums and everyone will expect a masterpiece. Wait 11 years, and unless that album is “Chinese Democracy,” audiences will be happy to have anything at all. If you are Gwen Stefani, audiences will forgive you anything upon your return, even if on your album’s title track you sing-rap “La vida loca/Speeding it up like soca” and then something about yoga, in the sort of fake Jamaican accent Nicki Minaj hears in her nightmares, mon.
The sweet, dippy “Push and Shove” is No Doubt’s first album in almost a generation. It’s backward-looking, more interested in reminding fans how good they were than in making a case for their continued relevance. But nostalgia for the fictional past has always been No Doubt’s default state — they’re like the Beach Boys of O.C. mall ska. These days, their palpable, ’80s-and-’90s-centered longing is on trend, and the band mines that vein for all it’s worth, referencing usual touchstones like Madness, newer ones like New Order (on “One More Summer,” the best of several taffy-like ballads) and cannibalizing themselves on “Settle Down,” the finest No Doubt song of 1999.
Stefani’s lyrics are still the diary scribblings of a world-weary fifth-year senior, with minimal references to adult things like fame or kids. But growing up isn’t all bad: There are a lot of adorable songs about being married to Gavin Rossdale (like “Underneath it All” heir “Gravity”), but if you were married to Gavin Rossdale, you would mention it a lot, too. And “Looking Hot,” the best non-love song here, vibrates with a mix of imperiousness and amusement that Gwen the Ingenue never could have mustered.
“Gravity,” “One More Summer,” “Looking Hot”